Even death couldn’t hold him back.
It’s been almost exactly four years since Marvel published Death of Wolverine and took the mos popular X-Man there is off the board. Death of Wolverine itself was a solid sendoff to the character, one marked by terrific art, a novel approach to depicting Wolverine’s senses and a poignant final scene. However, nothing that has followed has managed to live up to that standard. Neither the various Death of Wolverine tie-in books nor the weekly Wolverines series have done much but dilute the impact of that initial story. As for the recent Hunt for Wolverine crossover, that turned out to be a whole lot of fuss for very little payoff. The best that can be said for the entire Death and Resurrection of Wolverine meta-event is that it gave Laura Kinney and Old Man Logan a chance to shine in the absence of the original Wolverine.
Return of Wolverine brings this whole convoluted saga full-circle. It reunites Death of Wolverine writer Charles Soule and artist Steve McNiven for a story that finally brings Logan back to the forefront of the Marvel Universe. And for once, it seems that readers are finally in for a worthwhile follow-up to the original Death of Wolverine.
Fortunately, Return of Wolverine #1 is immediately accessible and easy to dive into without any exposure to recent Wolverine continuity. The downside to that is that it seems to function better if you pretend none of those intermediary books ever happened. It’s not even clear how this series is meant to connect to books like Marvel Legacy #1 and Hunt for Wolverine. We’ve seen Logan popping up all over the Marvel Universe over the past year, hoarding the Space Stone and generally acting all mysterious. Yet here he seems to have no memory of his life as an X-Man or any other recent events. Perhaps future chapters will make it more apparent where and how this book fits into current X-Men continuity, but for now it’s best appreciated in a vacuum.
It is interesting how much Soule and McNiven seem intent on mirroring the structure of Death of Wolverine. That book followed Logan as he made peace with each major stage of his life before finally confronting his legacy as a Weapon X test subject and dying in a laboratory. Here, he wakes up in a laboratory with no memories and must begin a journey to discover who he is and what plan fate holds in store for him now. While new villain Persephone is clearly an important part of this conflict, Soule’s script keeps the story anchored on Wolverine and his renewed quest for self-discovery. Honestly, it might not be the worst thing for the character if this amnesia angle became permanent and he once again became a hero without a past.
One of the highlights of Soule and McNiven’s work on Death of Wolverine involved their novel depiction of Wolverine’s enhanced senses via a series of colored word balloons with primal reactions to the surrounding environment. They don’t attempt to replicate that element here, as it wouldn’t necessarily serve as much purpose in terms of the larger story. Instead, they introduce a new wrinkle as they work to convey Logan’s fractured mental landscape. Our hero is haunted by ghosts of his past, both in dreams and in the waking world. Rather than relying on a traditional Claremontian monologue, this book has Logan conversing with his own reflection and slowly uncovering clues about his identity. It’s a great way to explore his state of mind without simply recycling all the usual Wolverine tropes.
McNiven remains a top-tier Wolverine artist, having delivered career-best work on both Death of Wolverine and Old Man Logan before it. His detailed, precise pencils combine with Jay Leisten’s confident inks to craft a visually striking take on Wolverine. Every last hair and wound is rendered in minute detail. The duo also pour a lot of care and attention into Logan’s face and posture. There’s a clear transition over the course of this issue and he shifts from confused, defensive posturing to a determined and confident hero.
The coloring doesn’t quite measure up to the standard of Death of Wolverine. Unfortunately, Justin Ponsor’s recent health troubles likely prevented him from participating on this project. Laura Martin is a fantastic colorist, but her work doesn’t quite complement McNiven and Leisten’s work as well as Ponsor’s did. The colors are a bit darker and heavier and tend to overpower the lines more. We’ll see if that aspect of the book improves when Declan Shalvey steps in for the next three issues.